New school in old
West hosts Westside Elementary open house May 18

       Plans for the new Westside Elementary are solidifying, and the community is invited to take a look during a public open house Monday, May 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Standing on the front steps below the stone insert stating the building's 1924 construction date, Terry Martinez (left) the new Westside Elementary principal, and Clay Gomez, continuing principal of West Middle School, shake hands on the facility-sharing plans they are putting together for the 2009-10 school year.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Space for the District 11 school, which will open in August, will be carved out of about half of the 101,000-square-foot West Middle School, 1920 W. Pikes Peak Ave., by construction crews this summer.
       In recent weeks, West Principal Clay Gomez and new Westside Principal Terry Martinez (currently at Washington Elementary) have been meeting regularly with each other and district officials to work out issues such as classroom locations; shared library, science room, auditorium, gym and playground usage; and security to ensure there will be no problems between younger and older children. Even normally mundane matters like classroom bells, announcements, lunch times and fire drills must be figured out.
       “The goal is to show that we can function as two schools,” Gomez said.
       “Like a family, we will have disagreements, but we will have to work through them,” Martinez said.
       The open house will offer tours and food (burgers, chips and soft drinks), and parents and students will get a chance to meet some of the staff.
       Middle-schoolers and their families are also welcome, the principals said, because those students also will find changes next year. For example, Gomez said the woodworking shop will be slightly redued in size to allow a new wall and space for the computer lab. (It had been across from the auditorium, but is being uprooted to create two new classrooms.)
       The entrance for the open house will be through the middle school's main door on Pikes Peak Avenue. When school starts in August, the elementary access will be at 25 N. 20th St. - the current entrance to the Colorado Springs Parks' West Center for Intergenerational Learning. (The center is being relocated to the old Buena Vista site to provide space for the new school.) Along with classrooms, the center's space will be transformed into Westside Elementary administrative offices, a K-5 cafeteria and possibly a before/after school daycare. The drop-offs for K-5 will be along 20th Street, Martinez said.
       Most of the elementary classes will be on the first floor, on the west side of the building. The few upstairs classes for younger students will be accessible through a stairway that does not go past middle school classes, he said.
       Playgrounds will be separated, with the current tennis courts changed into elementary playground space.
       The few times the older students will be near the younger ones will be to go to the first-floor science room and to their cafeteria, also on the first floor. But school staff will be watchful in such cases, Martinez and Gomez said.
       Preliminary enrollment figures show that the elementary students, who will be coming from three closing elementaries - Buena Vista (those not in Montessori), Whittier and Washington - will actually outnumber the middle schoolers. The estimates show a potential for 335 in grades K-5 and less than 200, more than half of them in the SAIL gifted program, grades 6-8).

The views above and below display the expected space arrangement inside West Middle School next year. The new Westside Elementary students will use the space shown in yellow, with middle school rooms mostly in blue. The science and library rooms are to be used by all grades at different times. ABOVE: The first floor. (Note the new elementary cafeteria in the large room at far left. It is now used by the West Intergenerational Center for activities such as meetings and senior lunches.) BELOW: The top floor.
Courtesy of Terry Martinez

       Contrary to some who have predicted bullying or other problems with older and younger students in the same building, Martinez and Gomez believe there are opportunities for learning through mentoring with the older kids. In a recent visit by elementary students to West, both observed middle schoolers acting as friendly leaders.
       The principals know the district will be watching the sharing arrangement closely. One possible outcome is West becoming a K-8 school - more integrated than just two schools under one roof. The district schedule shows staff presenting an evaluation of the idea, pro or con, to the Board of Education by next December.

Westside Pioneer article